Fringe continues to challenge actors, audiences alikeby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — The 16th annual Minnesota Fringe, an 11-day performing arts festival, launches tonight.
The Fringe, which allows performers and audience to try something new, has become so diverse it's hard to define.
You can look at the Minnesota Fringe in purely numerical terms. Executive director Robin Gillette can provide those numbers off the top of her head.
"There are 162 different companies, doing a total of 847 performances," she says.
There are plays, comedies, storytelling and dance. There's even burlesque. Each performer has won a spot in the annual Fringe lottery.
Fringe organizers say their shows often capture the zeitgeist of a time. Last year, politics was popular. This year it's serial killers - and bawdy material too. And a fair bit of opera. A piece by the Dead Composers Society focuses on a traveler's dissatisfaction with the toiletries in his hotel room.
It's all of these approaches, and myriad others, which festival communications director Matthew Foster says makes the Fringe the Fringe.
"You can delve as deep as you want to go," he says. "You can skim the surface, but you can delve as deep. It's just so infinitely configurable."
Or you can look at the Fringe like Quinton Skinner. He's a critic for City Pages, who approaches the Fringe like he's planning a military campaign. He'll see 14 shows this weekend alone.
"You have to plot it geographically, you have to pace yourself," he says. "You have to stay hydrated, make sure you eat and really just try to have fun."
You could even see the Minnesota Fringe as a summer getaway, Gillette says.
"We have some couples who come in from out of state every year, who make the Minnesota Fringe their vacation," she says. "And they'll come in, they'll take time off of work, they'll buy ultrapasses, and they'll go nuts."
An ultrapass is for the hardcore fan. It costs $150 and it gets you into any show you want. A single ticket costs $12.
Just as theater-goers have multiple reasons for attending the festival, so do the performers.
Shanan Wexler and Carolyn Pool's entire show "2 Sugars, Room for Cream" is all about coffee, and what happens when you have had too much.
They say they just wanted to do a show together.
"And so we said 'Let's try to get into the Fringe. If we do, then we have to come up with something,'" said Poole.
"And then they picked our ping-pong ball and here we are," Wexler laughs.
Wexler and Pool will use their Fringe spot to see if their show might have a life elsewhere.
Skinner says that dynamic shows there is a very serious side to the Fringe
"I think without the Fringe you would have a lot of frustrated artists," he says. "With the Fringe you have an institution that is economically viable, artistically viable, and really just become an absolute landmark."
"It's turned into an institution that's remarkably sturdy considering what it's composed of," he says.
- All Things Considered, 07/30/2009, 5:50 p.m.